What is your vision for utilizing technology within your school or classroom? So many times we hear about the newest and greatest thing out there, and as a principal or teacher, we want it in our classrooms without doing the proper research to see if it can be utilized correctly within the confines of those classrooms. If it is a piece of hardware: Can it be properly mounted or set in the classroom, can it be plugged into the wall safely, and does it need a special network cord or wireless access? If it is a piece of software: Does my computer have the capacity to run it, do I need special training to use it, will I need to purchase licenses for my students?
I remember buying a tablet for my daughter’s birthday. I thought it looked great. The description stated that it already had hundreds of apps preloaded specifically for her age range with a full set of curriculum apps. It was very flashy and came with its own glow-in-the-dark cover. I was sold immediately and could not wait for her to start learning great things with it. What I did not know was that most of the preloaded apps were just trial versions. They let you do a few things but ultimately you had to pay to get the full version, and some even had a monthly subscription rate.
Sadly, the tablet has become mostly a bookend on my daughter’s desk because we could not afford to purchase or subscribe to those apps and she became disinterested in it. I realize I did not do enough research in making the right tablet selection for my daughter.
A Not-So-Smart Investment
How many times does the same thing happen within our own classrooms? I once worked with a school that received a technology grant to buy Smart Boards for each classroom. The first obstacle was getting the Smart Boards installed correctly. It was basically a trial-and-error procedure in getting the boards level and at the right height. The next complication was having a laptop or computer to connect to the Smart Board. Some of the laptops were several years old and could not run the program. Some teachers had desktop computers that had to be moved to reach the cord from the Smart Board.
Once the school got all of the Smart Boards connected, some teachers dove right into utilizing several of the programs available and getting students more involved in the instruction.Some just used it as a fancy white board. The biggest problems with the Smart Boards, however, did not surface until 2 to 3 years later. None of the teachers were trained in the proper maintenance of their Smart Boards. Some of the accessories had been lost, the filters were not cleaned, and the projectors were left on when not in use. One by one, the bulbs began to burn out. At the time, replacement bulbs were about two hundred dollars, and with 8 to 10 Boards needing bulbs to be replaced, it was hard to find the money within the budget. In some cases, teachers moved their teaching to another side of the room and no longer used their Smart Boards.
Regrettably, nobody thought to look ahead or research possible problems with Smart Boards. Sometimes it is hard to do these things when we have so much on our plate, but it is essential for the huge investment that you might be making.
Instructing the Instructors
In the article “Preparing Teachers for the Digital Age,” author Andrew Trotter states that even if a school has the best equipment and software, nothing will be effective unless teachers know how and want to use all of it in the classroom (Trotter, A., and Zehr, M. 1999. Education Week, Vol. 19, Issue 4, p. 37). The CEO Forum on Education and Technology recommends that districts and schools should include professional development on the use of technology when developing technology plans and integrate it into its curriculum. It might be helpful for schools to look at what technology or initiatives are already in place and focus professional development on refining the skills needed to maximize their effectiveness.
We have to look at how we are designing professional development for schools and not fall into the same trap as many teachers. We are shifting away from the lecture style of “sit and get” to more interactive activities that engage participants, refine their technology skills, and model the success that we want to see in the classroom. We are also looking at how to respect the time of teachers by offering online resources and assistance such as ZOOM video conferencing or Moodle courses. This enables schools to reduce costs for professional development, travel, and teacher substitutes.
Having a clear and concise vision for technology will allow all stakeholders to collaborate and develop goals for a strong foundation. As a school leader you can then build upon that foundation and adapt to the ever changing needs of your students and the trends that so often occur within the technology world.